A holding penalty on right tackle Seantrel Henderson set up a 3rd-and-14 for the Bills offense. On the same play, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh nearly sacked quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Bills offense had gone backwards six yards in the third quarter after gallivanting up and down the field in the first half.
Head coach Rex Ryan yelled to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, "Dial up Sammy!" Roman beat him to the punch, though. He already called for number 14.
Sammy Watkins put a double move on cornerback Brent Grimes, faking inside before burning him to the outside. He raced into the end zone, where he met a 44-yard strike from Taylor and tumbled to the ground. Touchdown. The score put the Bills up 26-14 with just over 17 minutes of game time remaining.
"I live by the film," said Watkins. "I watched [Grimes] in every game from 2-3 years ago and watched how he plays press and doesn't switch it up. So I set it up to keep taking him inside, keep selling it. I beat him inside on the first throw, so I knew when in doubt that he's going to jump inside if I do it. So I double-moved him inside, sold him with my body. He jumped, and I just put my hand up, and Tyrod delivered the ball."
"He's a good receiver," said Grimes. "He's a great receiver. He's explosive and like I said, you make a mistake and they capitalize on them."
That route and touchdown were Watkins' biggest highlights on a day where he reestablished himself as one of the team's best offensive weapons. But it was just one play of many. Watkins caught eight passes—every single one of his targets—for 168 yards, a career high and the most in a game for the Bills since Terrell Owens in 2009. Owens had 197 receiving yards at Jacksonville on November 22 that year.
"He's a hell of a player," running back LeSean McCoy said of the second-year pass catcher. "He's really God-gifted. Out of all the players I've ever been around, in their second year, the most exposure, the most hype is Sammy because he's like the prince of the team. I mean, we need him to win games, which showed (Sunday)."
In the second quarter, Watkins corralled a 63-yard pass to set up a subsequent touchdown run by Karlos Williams from the Dolphins 11. He bobbled the ball on the play with the sun in his eyes, but maintained focus and pulled it in for the longest offensive play of the afternoon.
Watkins' breakout performance came despite his gimpy left ankle, still not fully recovered from his injury three weeks ago.
This performance also puts to rest any leftover tension stemming from social media, where Watkins received much criticism with fans venting about his injuries this season. Fellow wide receiver Robert Woods and McCoy said the social media din was irrelevant.
"I thank all of my fans," said Watkins. "The comment wasn't to anyone. I didn't mean that comment, so I just want to thank everybody for coming out still and chanting my name and still having faith in this team and me. That's why I came out and played the way I played. I felt like I owed it to the fans and to the team and to the organization."
"As a young player, I understand the feeling so I don't think he really needed to apologize because you go through those things," said McCoy. "Two years from now he'll probably be laughing about the Instagram and all that type of stuff."
This version of Watkins that the team has been waiting for first showed up Sunday in the second quarter, when he dove toward the Dolphins sideline to haul in a 13-yard reception. Originally calling the play an incomplete pass, referees reversed the ruling when replays revealed that Watkins left elbow hit the turf inbounds. That athletic grab alone put Ralph Wilson Stadium on notice that Watkins had officially returned.
Prince Sammy's coaches and teammates have been expecting this all along, though.
"I used to laugh at people and said you know, that this guy's unbelievable and when he's healthy he's right there in the mix with all those other great ones. But we just hadn't seen it," said Ryan. "He knows the kind of player he is, all of us know it, our fans know it and so you know what— he's back and like I say, we keep him healthy watch out."